Sneaky Dee's is the quintessential punk dive bar, a longtime institution of Toronto's downtown core that caters to the young and cash-strapped. Though originally established up on Bloor Street, Sneaky Dee's has called Bathurst and College home since 1990, and it's hard to imagine how the neighbourhood without it.
Famed for punk rock shows, walls of graffiti and greasy Tex-Mex eats designed to pair with way too much booze, Sneaky Dee's has a long and treasured legacy within Toronto's alternative circles. Some of Canada's most respected indie bands today got their start in the 200-capacity room upstairs, including Arcade Fire , Broken Social Scene , Fucked Up and Feist .
I stopped by recently on a Tuesday afternoon. It happened to be one of the first real days of spring, the most sunshine and warmth we'd seen in ages. I think it was the first time ever that I'd been to Sneaky's in broad daylight, and it was a much different vibe from the crowded late-night version that I'm used to.
It was still about an hour before the dinner rush, so I took the opportunity to explore the space before it got totally packed with the regular clientele of college kids and local musicians. My favourite find: the family of four having an early meal in one of the graffiti-etched booths, tricking me into thinking this place could pass for a totally normal family restaurant. The world is truly a very different place in the daytime.
The menu at Sneaky Dee's is just as massive as the portions, with a lengthy list of apps, all-day breakfasts, Mexican plates and nachos to choose from. Oh, the nachos; just ask any regular what to order and they'll tell you that these are the stuff of legend. The fully-loaded King's Crown platter ($19) is the perennial favourite, but there are even vegan and vegetarian versions to please other types of eaters.
Tuesdays are half-price fajita nights ($11.50 instead of the customary $23), so tons of sizzling plates are streaming out of the kitchen, filling the bar with a distinct smoky scent. But I'm trying the Burrito Grande ($13.50), easily two pounds of shredded beef, cheese, salsa mole and beans ready to burst out of a flour tortilla. Part of me wishes I were hungover to fully appreciate a meal like this.
Speaking of which: the drinks here are pretty traditional crowd-pleasers, with six options on tap including Amsterdam Blonde, Alexander Keith's and Beau's Lug Tread. A pint can run you $5.50-7.50, while pitchers range from $14 to $20.75. Bottled options (from Coors Light to Guinness) are available too, as are your standard cocktails and shots.
The menu also nods to Sneaky Dee's place in local music lore with regular additions named after Toronto-centric bands. The Fucked Up Breakfast honours the Polaris-winning punks, as does the amazingly titled Queen of Heart Attacks ($24.95 each). Death from Above 1979 have their own nacho plate ($19.79, natch), which looks pretty damn good topped with thick avocado slices, pulled pork and all the fixins.
Nothing was scheduled in the upper room that evening, but I've been to my fair share of concerts in it. In fact, I think one of the first shows I attended after moving into the city was an old Shit La Merde NYE party that featured Holy Fuck . It's remarkable how stable Sneaky's musical tastes have been before and since then: it's not really limited to any genre, but they've pretty much always welcomed just about any band that could be described as "different."
As the sun sets, the playlist of 80s classics overhead seems to swell louder with the sudden influx of the night crowd. Yup, this is the Sneaky Dee's I know.